President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the government will expand job-training and apprenticeship programs with a $600 million effort to equip workers with the skills sought by employers.
Obama said the U.S. risks losing ground to economic competitors such as China and India unless it trains more workers in fields including advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care.
“It's never been more important to make sure our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and for the jobs of the future,” Obama said at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in Oakdale, Pa., southwest of Pittsburgh.
While the unemployment rate is declining and the economy is rebounding from the recession, “a lot of people don't feel that progress in their lives yet,” Obama said.
There are signs that the world's largest economy is accelerating, with Federal Reserve data showing Wednesday that industrial production rose more than forecast and other recent data indicating stronger retail sales and employment.
The labor market has been improving in many metropolitan areas across. The unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh area is 6.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with the statewide average of 6.2 percent and the national rate of 6.7 percent.
The first initiative is a $500 million competitive grant program for community colleges that are linked with businesses to teach the specific skills needed for open jobs.
The second is a $100 million apprenticeship program, in which businesses, unions, community colleges or nonprofit organizations would form partnerships to teach skills for hard- to-fill jobs, such as information technology, high-tech services, health-care and advanced manufacturing.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the training and apprenticeships will be built on cooperation with businesses that “define the skill sets they need.”
The goal is to ensure participants get “portable, stackable credentials” that will be recognized by companies across the country.
The initiative is a follow-up to Obama's State of the Union address in January, in which he directed Vice President Joe Biden, who joined him Wednesday, to review federal programs to make sure they “train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”